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Rockets’ stand not their last

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They play John Hardin in 2nd round this Friday

By Josh Cook

A handful of key defensive stands and a pair of fourth-quarter touchdowns propelled the Shelby County football team into the second round of the state playoffs.

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The Rockets rallied from a 14-7 deficit to beat Jeffersontown – and avenge last year’s season-ending loss – 21-14, Friday night in the first round of the Class AAAAA playoffs.

“We just wanted to play another game,” junior running back Earl Stoudemire said.

Stoudemire’s 6-yard touchdown run with 6 minutes, 29 seconds to play put Shelby County on top to stay, although the Rockets’ defense twice had to stop the Chargers on downs to preserve the victory.

“We had some big stops,” said Shelby County Coach Todd Shipley, whose team will play third-ranked John Hardin (9-2) at 7:30 p.m. Friday in Elizabethtown.

The Rockets (6-4) had five fourth-down stops in all, the biggest of which came just before halftime. 

J-town (3-8) had taken a 7-0 lead on Kendrick Gardner’s 56-yard touchdown pass to DeQue Matthews late in the first quarter, and Shelby County answered quickly with a 5-play, 76-yard drive to tie the score.

Dalton Thompson’s 36-yard pass to Michael Perry and Stoudemire’s 29-yard run set up Thompson’s 11-yard touchdown pass to Tanner Bryant. Josh Edwards’ extra-point kick knotted the score at 7.

The Chargers, though, retook the lead on their ensuing possession when Gardner and Matthews hooked up again, this time for a 30-yard pass play.

“They have some great athletes, [and] they made some hellacious catches,” Shipley said.

J-town stopped the Rockets on downs on their subsequent possession and looked to add to its lead, driving deep into Shelby territory. A pass interference penalty gave the Chargers a first-and-goal at the Rockets’ 7 with less than a minute remaining in the first half. But Shelby County’s defense held.

After J-town’s Tyruis Porter gained 4 yards on first down, the Rockets dropped Gardner for no gain, a loss of a yard and no gain on the Chargers’ next three plays.

“That was big going into halftime,” Shelby senior lineman Jalyn Perry said. “”Everything turned around after that. We had the momentum going into halftime.”

Said Shipley: “At halftime I told the guys that that fourth down stop might have won us the ball game.”

The Rockets’ D had another big stand to start the second half, stopping J-town on downs at their 19.

“The kids just stepped up and played,” Shipley said. “There was no rah-rah, yell-at-you speech, it was just 'Do what you do better.'”

Shelby County’s offense got rolling shortly thereafter. Thompson’s 10-yard touchdown pass to Breamon Harris – two plays after Thompson’s 38-yard pass to Michael Perry – tied the score with 11:11 to play.

“We came out and played after halftime. We did what we had to do,” said Stoudemire, who ran for a team-high 52 yards on six carries.

The Rockets stopped J-town on downs once again, this time at their 31, before embarking on the game-winning drive. The biggest play of that 9-play march was a 30-yard completion from Thompson to Perry on third-and-10 from the Chargers’ 31.

Thompson was then stopped for no gain on first-and-goal at the 1 before a false start penalty pushed Shelby back to the 6. On the next play, though, Thompson handed off to Stoudemire, who ran in for the go-ahead score.

“There was a huge hole, and I sprinted through it and put it in the end zone,” Stoudemire said.

The game wasn’t over yet, though.

J-town drove to the Rockets’ 25 before three consecutive incompletions by Gardner and a fourth-down tackle by sophomore linebacker Malik Manica stopped the Chargers.

After picking up one first down, though, Shelby County punted the ball back to J-town.

Once again the Chargers drove to the Rockets’ 25, but once again the Rockets stopped them, with their patchwork defense forcing Gardner into four consecutive incompletions.

The Rockets lost junior linebacker Greg Abarientos to injury in the fourth quarter and shifted several players (Bryant, freshman Ke’Shawn Catlett and sophomore Devon Mantilla) around to make up for his absence.

“We just worked together,” Jalyn Perry said. “Greg got hurt, and we wanted to win for him.”